The Qasr Al Hosn Festival has been hailed a huge success after tens of thousands of visitors attended the annual celebration of the ancient fort and more than 250 years of Emirati tradition, organized by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority.
Held under the patronage of General Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the 10-day Qasr Al Hosn Festival, in honour of Abu Dhabi's most symbolic historic building, attracted Emiratis, expatriates and tourists of all ages.
Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, said: "This year's Qasr Al Hosn Festival has been a huge success, bringing in people of all nationalities and from all walks of life to celebrate this fort, the symbolic birthplace of Abu Dhabi."
Sheikh Sultan added, "Qasr Al Hosn Festival is an annual opportunity to highlight the importance of the Fort and its place at the heart of Abu Dhabi's proud history, and to demonstrate the significant conservation and restoration process undertaken on the fort and its surroundings. We hope the success of this year's programme sets a precedent for many more years to come."
Every day, hundreds of visitors took guided tours inside the historic fort, their first opportunity in many years to see first-hand the important restoration work going on and learn more about the unique role Qasr Al Hosn has played in the evolution of the emirate. It was also the first chance in several years for people to explore the Cultural Foundation, which offered a wide array of handicraft workshops, and recreated symbolic moments and memories of Abu Dhabi life and particularly of the Cultural Foundation, such as poetry evenings and a library experience.
Throughout the 10 days, the lively festival site, this year divided into four distinct areas - Marine, Oasis, Desert and Abu Dhabi Island - was swarming with families enjoying cultural demonstrations, educational workshops, storytelling and heritage-themed activities.
A team of young "Ambassadors" - specially trained Emirati students from across the UAE - were stationed throughout the festival, making people's visits even more enjoyable by providing additional guidance and information.
One of the most popular attractions at this year's event was the unique Gahwa (coffee in Arabic) experience located at the Cultural Foundation, a contemporary take on the Emirati coffee tradition where guests were able to learn about the Gahwa's history and ritual, and taste or buy various types of the traditional Emirati Gahwa.
Fatema Dudaeva, 36, a Chechnyan expat, said she had visited the festival every day and particularly enjoyed the Gahwa, as well as demonstrations of traditional Emirati dances. She had also learned new culinary skills in a traditional cookery workshop.
"I come every day, and every day I find something new and exciting that I didn't see before," she said. "I love all the heritage on show here, and my favourite was the Gahwa coffee and the native dancing.
"I also really loved learning to do Henna, and I took part in a cooking workshop. This festival is wonderful because it is keeping traditions alive.
It's so important that people stay in touch with their past. I think it helps people appreciate what they have more."
Other hits with visitors, according to feedback gathered at the festival, were toy making workshops for children in the Cultural Foundation, and demonstrations of fishnet making in the marine zone.
The Qasr Al Hosn Exhibition, which took visitors on an educational journey through the fort's history, was also a favourite for many people. The exhibition will continue to open its doors for visitors after the festival.
Hamad Al Mansoori, Emirati, 17, who works at the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi, spent two days exploring the festival's varied attractions. He said: "The atmosphere of the festival is amazing - the sights, the sounds,
everything. I've learned so much about the past from coming here. The festival is about how Emirati people used to live their lives - I was standing earlier with an old man who was showing me the traditional way they used to make rope. It's very important, particularly for the young generation, to be reminded of their heritage. The late Sheikh Zayed taught us that if you don't have a past, you don't have a future."
Hana Al Menhali, Emirati, 35, was enjoying seeking out authentic Emirati goods in the traditional souk area. "The souk is excellent and sells real, good quality Emirati stuff - I have bought spices and perfumes," she said.
"The festival is very exciting for the UAE people and for the visitors because it teaches so much about our traditions.
One of the highlights of this year's festivities was the spectacular Cavalia at Qasr Al Hosn, a sell-out show which dazzled audiences with its stunning mix of acrobatics and equestrian performance. Beautifully adapted for the Qasr Al Hosn Festival audience, the mesmerising show told the story of man's age-old bond with horses.
For more information about Qasr Al Hosn Festival, please visit www.qasralhosnfestival.ae.